It comes as no surprise that as Stanford Football has risen to the highest ranks in college football, the NFL has taken notice. While it wasn't long ago that the program was completely ignored by NFL scouts (not a single Stanford player was selected in either 2008 or '09 draft), things have changed in recent years.
Toby Gerhart, Jim Dray, and Erik Lorig were drafted in 2010, Sione Fua, Owen Marecic, Richard Sherman, and Ryan Whalen were chosen in 2011, and Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Coby Fleener, and Jonathan Martin were all selected in the first 42 picks of last year's draft. We all know about the successes of Luck and Sherman, but it should be noted that all eleven of those players are still contributing members of NFL teams.
The Stanford presence in the NFL draft continued this weekend as Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo, and Stepfan Taylor were all drafted, and other players quickly signed as undrafted free agents. I don't spend much time on this site discussing the success of Stanford players in the NFL, but the visibility of a school's alumni on Sundays certainly impacts the thought processes of high school athletes looking to play on Saturdays. Simply put, a touchdown pass from Luck to Fleener in 2013 will help Stanford almost as much as it did back in 2011.
Anyway, here's a look at Stanford's Draft Weekend Class of 2013. Check back in the coming days for a report on Cardinal players who have signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents.
Zach Ertz -- Philadelphia Eagles, Round 2, Pick #35 overall
In case you're wondering whether or not Chip Kelly ever got over Ertz's acrobatic game-tying touchdown from last November, this pick might be the answer. With the second pick of the Kelly Regime, the Eagles went with Ertz , and it seems like a good fit. There are three other tight ends on the Philadelphia roster (including fellow alum, Evan Moore), but Ertz shouldn't have trouble finding playing time. He will be the biggest, fastest, and youngest tight end on the team, and all of that is good. Coming from the Stanford system, Ertz is obviously used to blocking, which will endear him to Kelly and the Philadelphia coaching staff as they work to implement Kelly's run-based spread offense, but he'll also emerge as a downfield threat. This is definitely a good spot for him.
Levine Toilolo -- Atlanta Falcons, Round 4, Pick #133 overall
Any doubt that Stanford University is actually Tight End U? The second Cardinal tight end drafted landed in a great spot. At first glance, the competition might seem a bit tight. The Atlanta roster currently features six tight ends, but when you look closer you realize that only one of those guys matters. Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez led all Atlanta receivers with 93 receptions, but the other four combined for just two. In this pass-heavy offense (615 passing attempts vs. 378 rushes) there will be plenty of balls to go around, and I'm guessing Toilolo will get a decent amount of targets. But even if he doesn't, even if he never sees the field on Sunday, he'll get to spend Monday through Saturday learning at the heel of the best tight end in NFL history. Sure, as a Cal alum Gonzalez might give Toilolo a little bit of grief, and yes, Toilolo will probably have to endure an extra dose of rookie hazing after Stanford's annual beat down of the Bears in November, but it will be worth it. In 2014 Toilolo will be the starting tight end, and another rookie will be carrying his bags.
Stepfan Taylor -- Arizona Cardinals, Round 5, Pick #140 overall
This year's draft was the confirmation of what people have been saying for a few years now. The NFL is a passing league. At first glance, it might seem odd that 139 players were chosen ahead of the Offensive MVP of the Rose Bowl and all-time leading rusher in Stanford history, but Taylor wasn't the only back to be passed over. Wisconsin's Montee Ball, the NCAA's all-time leading scorer and 2012 Doak Walker Award winner, wasn't selected until the end of the second round, and there wasn't a single running back chosen in Round 1 for the first time in fifty years. But none of that really matters for Taylor. He arrives on a weak team and when he arrives at minicamp in June and sits in his first running backs meeting, he'll look around and see less talent than he did in Palo Alto. Free agent signee Rashad Mendenhall will be the starter, but that's largely due to what he did from '09-'11 in Pittsburgh; last season he had only 51 carries in six games. The Cardinals' top returning runner is someone named William Powell, who had 60 carries for 217 yards. Because of all this, Taylor will definitely see the field and could emerge -- and have a long career -- as a third-down back. He was probably the best blocking halfback in the Pac-12, and Senior Bowl coaches raved about that ability during their practices. Combined with his pass-catching ability, that will be enough to separate him from a thin group of Arizona running backs.